The Magnitude 7.2 1929 "Grand Banks" Earthquake and Tsunami

1929 house and ship image

PANL image A 2-149

It was commonly thought that this photo showed one of the homes swept out to sea by the 1929 tsunami being towed back to shore. Alan Ruffman, who is the acknowledged expert on the historical aspects of the 1929 earthquake, provides the full story. The following description contains extracts from the document entitled "Notes on the photograph of a house tied up to a schooner in Little Burin Harbour after the November 18, 1929 Tsunami at Port au Bras, Newfoundland" by Alan Ruffman, Geomarine Associates Ltd, Halifax, NS, based on his 1986 interviews with Robert Isaacs of Stephenville, Newfoundland and Ronald Mitchell of Halifax, Nova Scotia (both of whom were school-aged boys living in Port au Bras at the time of the earthquake and tsunami):

The photograph shows a large schooner at anchor with a two-storey house (and an attached shed behind it) floating directly astern of the schooner. There is an island closeby behind the vessel and more rugged land in the far background.

The house belonged to Mr Steven Henry Isaacs (the uncle of Ronald Mitchell) of Port au Bras (seven lives were lost in this village but none of them appear to have been members of the immediate Isaacs family). It was swept away from Port au Bras by the tsunami and found floating offshore 1-2 kilometres southeast of the mouth of Port au Bras inlet. It was towed into shelter into Little Burin Harbour by the owner and his father, William Henry Isaacs.

There was apparently a lot of dry lumber stored under the house - some of the wood was still trapped there when it was recovered and may explain why the house floated so high in the water.

The house was temporarily attached to the schooner Marian Belle Wolfe which had been anchored there for the winter season (the schooner did not tow the home back to shore and was unaffected by the tsunami). The Marian Belle Wolfe was built in Shelburne, NS in 1920, was 126 feet (38.4m) long and had a Canadian registered tonnage of 116 tons.

The island in the near background is believed to be called Pauls Island. The peninsula behind the island on the right is now part of the town of Burin, on the left is Simmons Island and in the far background is Pardys Island.

The house was eventually restored to its original location onshore.